I’ve always been inherently curious about where the ingredients I’m consuming, and slathering, come from. I’m fascinated by stories of product origin and inspiration, am drawn to organic skincare for its simplicity, and am a regular participant in raid-your-kitchen DIY beauty. So, when I got the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica — glorious land of aromatic coffee and grinning sloths — with the specific goal of learning about coffee production, I couldn’t pounce on that plane ticket fast enough.
My destination was Vista Celestial, an award-winning boutique hotel with views that’ll send your social media followers into slack-jawed shock and envy the second you start posting pictures. As gorgeous as this intimate resort is — nestled high up in the jungle overlooking Uvita beach's Whale Tail — I was on a mission beyond relaxation and heavy Instagram posting. I wanted to figure out how the coffee I drink every day was produced from scratch, and I wanted to learn why it’s such a heralded skincare ingredient.
How Coffee Is Made
The hotel sources all its coffee from a tiny, family-run plantation that’s located 45 minutes up the same mountain, and offers a coffee tour — nay, experience — to anyone who stays. When I say 45 minutes, I’m talking about an arduous, steep, and exhilarating hike; driving there would take over two hours.
Once at the top, though, it’s as if you’ve wandered into a Costa Rican paradise with serious Wes Anderson vibes. Your reward? The freshest, most delicious coffee you’ve ever sipped. But first you've got to make the coffee, and the process takes a couple hours.
Did you know this red berry is where coffee comes from? Because I didn't. Coffee farmers on hypersmall plantations like this hand pick the berries once they turn red, a process that can take days.
The berries are taken to a greenhouse and thinned out over an aerated platform. They sit here until they're completely dried out, which you can imagine takes some time given the humidity of the rainforest.
Next, the dried berries are gently grinded down. Again, at small plantations like this one, it's a manual, low-budget process. I can confirm, though, that this slowed process makes the coffee that much more delicious.
Once ground, the green coffee beans are separated from the shells. At this point, they only mildly resemble the coffee we know and love.
Next, the green coffee beans are placed in a large pan and roasted for roughly an hour. As they roast, they pop and crackle and darken in color. The natural oils begin to seep out and give off a spicy, nutty aroma.
Trust me when I say it smells twice as incredible as it looks!
Finally, the coffee is ground down one more time before being brewed. You might have heard fabled tales of coffee that doesn't require cream or sugar, but after this experience I can assure you it does exist.
Coffee In Your Skincare
As a beauty and skincare fanatic, I was eager to do more than just sip on the coffee I helped create. I wanted to slather it all over my body! First, though, I hit up a couple experts to get the DL on this apparent miracle worker of an ingredient.
“Caffeine contains natural antioxidants, which is why it’s a common ingredient to find in skincare. Antioxidants help to reduce free-radicals and work to protect your skin from the environment,” explained Dr. Craig Austin, a NYC-based dermatologist. “Also, natural caffeine found in coffee has been known to actually contract blood vessels, therefore reducing redness and visible inflammation.”
This is why we see coffee and caffeine in so many skincare products — especially in eye creams, cellulite creams, and body scrubs. It helps diminish the appearance of dark circles, and because it’s a diuretic it draws out excess fluids from fatty tissue, he explained.
In formulated beauty products, the caffeine is extracted and incorporated in very high concentrations, rendering them even more potent than straight coffee. You can even feel a slight tingly sensation when applied, and the results are almost immediate. For example, Sunday Riley’s just-launched Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Contour Cream ($65) and 100% Pure’s Coffee Bean Caffeine Eye Cream ($15) utilize caffeine as a hero ingredient.
These properties also make coffee a sought-after ingredient in cellulite creams and body scrubs. Examples include Frank Body Original Coffee Scrub ($17) and Dr. Brandt's Cellusculpt Body Shaper & Cellulite Smoothing Cream ($59).
“I think [coffee body scrubs] can be very invigorating for circulation and skin tightening on the body. It’s a great temporary treatment for cellulite,” noted celebrity facialist, Joanna Vargas. She added that green, unroasted beans can actually provide higher doses of antioxidants and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, so that's something to keep in mind.
Two hours after hiking back down the mountain (and taking a much-needed shower), I indulged in a full-blown coffee scrubdown using coffee from the farm. The massage therapist created a heavenly smelling concoction of finely ground coffee, chocolate, and coconut oil, and massaged it into my skin limb by limb.
Next, she wrapped my arms, legs, and stomach in plastic, which was surprisingly therapeutic and not at all clausterphobia-inducing like I thought it might be. We let it set for 20 minutes while she massaged my neck and head, and then I showered off.
My skin was divine levels of soft, and though I couldn't see a physical difference in firmness, I trust that the coffee and its co-stars imparted their antioxidant-rich, hydrating goodness to my skin.
The entire experience was so grounding (no pun intended), and instilled in me a deeper appreciation for the art of coffee, and its efficacy as a beauty ingredient.
If you get the chance, I highly recommend immersing yourself into an aspect of your skincare. Whether it's a coffee journey in Costa Rica or at home, or even exploring another ingredient you've always been curious about, you'll walk away completely changed — and hopefully your skin will be better for it, too!
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